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Proofreading & Editing Tips for Content Writers

  • What’s the difference between proofreading and editing?
  • Most common writing mistakes
  • Bonus proofreading tips to support SEO

With tools such as Grammarly, Hemingway, and ProWriting Aid, are the days of traditional proofreading over?

While these proofreading and editing tools are certainly helpful, they do not spot every mistake and cannot evaluate content nuances such as style and context like humans can.

Although you can programme code into proofreading tools to make them recognise mistakes and learn grammar rules, you can’t count on these platforms to proofread your content at the same level as a professional.

Typos, incorrect facts and grammatical errors may annoy your clients and cause them to lose faith in your business. That’s why we suggest never skipping the proofreading process. Work that isn’t proofread could lead to the following questions being raised:

  • What are we paying them for?
  • Are they professional writers?
  • Do they care about my business?

Remember, high-quality content also plays directly into conversions. For example, if a customer finds multiple typos and errors in your content, this could make you appear unprofessional and untrustworthy.

content writing

It’s also worth noting that proofreading and editing are two different concepts. If you’re unsure about how they differ, don’t worry, we’ve defined the difference between the two in this guide.

Proofreading vs Editing

While proofreading might involve some light editing, it essentially refers to giving the final piece a once-over to highlight or correct any errors the editor missed.

To save time and create a more efficient process, you should always edit content before proofreading. Adhering to this process will ensure that your content is well organised, articulate and easy to understand.

Essentially, the proofreader’s job is to determine whether a piece or multiple pieces of content is ready for publication. Some of the common writing mistakes that show up in writing include:

  • Commas
  • Inconsistencies
  • Long sentences
  • Passive voice
  • Run-on sentences
  • Spacing
  • Typos 
  • Wordiness

Our readers that are seasoned writers may have ironed out most of these a long time ago. However, if you’re new to proofreading or want to brush up on your skills, we’ve highlighted common writing mistakes that you should avoid.

Incorrect Use of Commas

Knowing where to insert a comma is a common issue for many writers. Sometimes we add commas when they are not needed, which can obscure the content’s contextual meaning.

Use commas after introductory elements, such as interjections, prepositional phrases, absolute phrases, adverbs, and transitional expressions:

Well, I think that’s a great idea.

Quietly, we tiptoed down the stairs, trying not to make a sound.

However, you don’t need to use a comma when an introductory element is short.

Don’t use commas before coordinating conjunctions – and, but, for, or, so and yet – if the conjunction does not form part of a compound sentence.

For example, the comma is unnecessary here:

Dave and Heather looked for red apples, and found oranges instead.

Incorrect use of commas could skew the meaning of your sentences.

Inconsistencies

Most businesses have a writing style guide to ensure that their writers, editors, and proofreaders are on the same page.

If your company or client has a style guide – stick to it. Suppose you don’t have a style guide, then source a reputable one from the internet. Well-known news brands such as The Telegraph, New York Times and the BBC have style manuals available in the public domain.

When proofreading content, you should be looking out for style and spelling inconsistencies, such as:

  • Capitalisation of words in content and headings
  • Language spelling conventions, e.g. stylised vs stylized
  • Hyphenated text
  • Full stops at the end of bullet-pointed lists vs leaving them open
  • Visual formats

When targeting a higher keyword volume, it’s an SEO myth to use multiple spellings of the same word, e.g. holiday-let and holiday let. Search engines are intelligent enough to discern that both mean the same thing, so stick to one spelling to avoid looking unprofessional.

Long Sentences

While long sentences aren’t inherently wrong, too many of them can make your content difficult to read.

There’s an argument that short, concise sentences are more effective than longer sentences as it shows you’re more efficient at communicating your ideas.

Here are a few tips on how to optimise your sentences:

  • Remove unnecessary words – At Soar Online, we call them filler words, e.g. even, rather, and perhaps
  • Reduce adverb clutter – Don’t overload your writing with verbs that end in -ly
  • Aim to write sentences of between 15-20 words, and see if you can split longer sentences in half
  • Avoid hedging words such as “think and maybe” as this could raise questions about your expertise

Remember that readers have short attention spans, and attention spans have shortened, so people have little time to sieve through unnecessary information. In addition, concise sentences are easier to read and loved by Google, so they can be critical for maintaining interest and engagement.

Passive Voice

Becoming adept at using the active and passive voice will help you develop your skills as a writer.

You’ve probably been warned against using the passive voice in school as the active voice sounds more direct, engaging and easier to read. 

Active voice: The teacher scolded the student for being disruptive.

Passive voice: The student was scolded by the teacher for being disruptive.

Content marketing and google searches

Aside from the active voice being more personal, it also creates a sense of action, which helps your writing sound less vague and long-winded. That’s not to say you should never use passive voice, as it would be appropriate when the agent is obvious or unknown. For example, the passive construction “the paintings were made in the Renaissance era” sounds better than the active “someone made paintings in the Renaissance era.”

You might also want to use passive voice to focus on the object affected by the action, for example:

He wasn’t invited on holiday.

One thousand people are employed at Soar Online.

The more you practice writing, the easier it will be to understand when the passive voice can be effective in content.

Run-on Sentences

Run-on sentences occur when two or more independent clauses are joined together without the correct punctuation. The most common type of run-on sentence is the comma splice, where instead of using a semicolon or conjunction to link two causes, a comma is used:

For example, the sentence: “The results of the audit were inconclusive, another inspection needs to be conducted” should read:

The audit results were inconclusive; therefore, another inspection needs to be conducted.

Run-on sentences often occur when writers are rushing their work. When proofreading work, it’s essential to identify run-on sentences and make sure the correct punctuation is being used, to improve the flow of sentences and maintain clarity.

Improper Spacing

The proofreader’s responsibility is to flag visual errors, such as improper line and paragraph spaces.

Some copywriters prefer double-spaced copy and mistake hitting the enter bar twice for formatting line spacing in Microsoft Word’s “Format” tab.

In Microsoft Word, you can set how much space you want to appear before and after the paragraph, to create a consistent format across your text. Besides line space, other common formatting mistakes include:

  • Double spaces between words
  • Various alignments
  • Missing space before or after a word
  • Indented text
  • Large margins
  • Not writing for mobile

Content that is incorrectly formatted could distract readers. Use CTRL +H – a find and replace function – to tackle any rogue formatting issues instantly.

Typos

While most readers will overlook a few typos, if your content is peppered with spelling errors, this could make them feel inclined to exit the page.

Tools like Word’s Spelling and Grammar Checker and Grammarly could help you identify typos and misspelt words, but you should also aim to identify your own mistakes as they probably won’t flag every error.

Furthermore, if you know the words you tend to misspell, the editing job will be much easier.

Some of the most common English typos and misspellings include:

  • Homophones, e.g. their, they’re and there
  • Repetition – it’s easy to type a word twice and not notice
  • Contractions, e.g. we’re and were

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the most commonly misspelt words in the English language are:

  • Accommodate – people often forget the double ‘c’ and double ‘m’
  • Receive – remember ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’
  • Which – it seems hard to believe, but many people spell which as ‘wich’
  • Until – in the Middle Ages, this word was spelt untill, and it seems that some people still incorrectly use that spelling
  • Occurred – much like accommodate, a lot of people tend to spell it with one ‘r’
  • Separate – the first ‘a’ is often confused with an ‘e’ for seperate, which is incorrect
  • Government – don’t forget that this word contains an ‘n’ and should not be spelt as ‘goverment’
  • Definitely – people often get this word confused with ‘defiantly’ or ‘definately’
  • Pharaoh – while this isn’t a word that appears frequently, the ‘a’ and the ‘o’ often feature the wrong way round when it is used
  • Publicly – don’t make the mistake of adding -ally and spell publicly as publically 

English is widely considered one of the most challenging languages to learn due to spelling and grammar nuances. It is one of the few languages that use abbreviations, several variations of the plural form, perplexed spelling, confusing idioms and grammar rules.

When writing, editing or proofreading content, make sure you stick to one style guide to limit error.

Wordiness

Avoid overloading sentences with extra jargon that aren’t relevant to the argument, as this could come across as wordy and difficult to read.

Convoluted sentences could negatively affect your writing. It forces readers to disentangle the significant parts of your content from the unnecessary aspects, hindering their ability to understand the sentence.

Avoid wordiness by refraining from using the following:

1. Filler Words

While filler words might sound good, they are often useless. Examples of filler words and phrases include:

  • Really
  • Even so
  • Rather
  • That
  • When’s all said and done

It’s best to keep sentences short, concise, which also helps you appear as an authoritative source.

2. Redundancies

Redundancy occurs when a writer includes unnecessary words or repeats information.

For example, this sentence: “Steve is a loud, noisy, boisterous person” is redundant because the three words used to describe Steve essentially mean the same thing. When using the triple technique, it would be best to use adjectives that provide more depth into Steve’s personality or character.

Another common form of redundancy in writing occurs when two or more connected sentences contain the same information but are written differently.

Additional Proofreading Tips for SEOs

While it is important to write content for search engines to rank for a top position in SERPs, remember that you’re writing for people first and not the algorithm.

Your content needs to reach your audience in a way that feels natural and organic, so be careful with how you incorporate keywords. When optimising your content, don’t pad your text with keywords that may make the publication appear disruptive and unnatural.

As the human attention span has shortened, it’s vital to construct content that can be skim read, which will help increase the time users spend reading your publication.

Make your content easy to digest with clear headings, bullet-pointed or numbered lists and graphics. More importantly, as most people browse the net on their smartphones, small chunks of text work better on mobile devices.

We also advise including clear, strong calls to action and social media share buttons on web pages to encourage readers to take action and increase engagement.

Soar Online has a dedicated team of SEO experts and Content writing wizards who can elevate the standard of content on your website and boost your rankings in the search engines. If you want to learn more about fantastic ways to create top-performing content in 2022, read our guide here.

Get in touch today about your 2022 digital marketing objectives, or order a free audit of your website and current digital footprint.

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